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Friday, February 23, 2018

Game Day in Charm City


We've been told that the best crabcakes in Baltimore come from a stand at the Lexington Market. Letty's been on a mission to try as many as she can while we're here.


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The Charm City Purple Route stops in front of our hotel on Redwood Street and it's a quick, easy, and free ride to a stop three blocks from the market.




It's a bit of a downtrodden three blocks, very similar to walking through our hometown's (Los Angeles) Skid Row.  This is our second attempt, my wife got sick a couple of days ago and we had to postpone our visit but we're here now and ready to go.



Faidley's Seafood is in the back of the market, allowing us to peruse all the other stands along the way. It really reminds me of how Grand Central Market in L.A. was before all the gentrification hit.

The sights, sounds, and smells let you know the market is the real deal. It's a wonderful place, even if you have to go through some not so wonderful real estate to get there.




I'm not much of a seafood lover but even I can taste the goodness in this lump of crabmeat. Letty will eventually proclaim this to be a close second to the crabcakes she will try during this trip.

You will pay a price for it, however.  The cake, two sides, and a soda (one refill only) will push the boundary to $25 which you order and get from a counter, take on a foam plate to a table you must stand at, and then eat. Luckily, since I did buy some food, I could partake of the chance of a pint of Natty Boh for a measly $2.50 at the adjacent oyster bar.

As the title on the post says, it's game day so we head back to the hotel to rest up for the night's festivities.



A decent eight block or so walk takes us past the Inner Harbor where we can see this old church.  It's the Old Otterbein United Methodist Church, standing in this spot for 244 years. Across the street is one of baseball's classic stadiums but it's only been standing here for 23 years.


The massive B&O warehouse signals that we've arrived at our destination, Oriole's Park at Camden Yards. Tim has gotten us a deal on seats right behind home plate.



Entering here, we're at center field, opposite the side we'll be sitting on. This gives us a chance to see the stadium on the way to our seats.



I'm told it's new for this year but there's an honest-to-goodness German style beer garden out here beyond the bullpens. Almost makes me disappointed we didn't sit out here in the cheap seats. Almost.



We may not have a beer garden behind home plate but we do have vendors coming by with pints of ice cold Natty Bohs every five minutes. And I mean ICE cold, too. They taste very good on this extremely hot and humid night. At eight dollars, it's the same price as the 12 ounce craft brews they sell at the nearby snack bar.

Letty doesn't do well with the hot weather here and frequently sneaks off to the air conditioned gift shop to browse. 



It would help if the stadium had an open concourse to allow the air to blow through in addition to having a view of the field whenever you went to the snack bar.

Tim and I enjoy the Esskay hot dogs they sell here. The popcorn  is OK, not bad but nowhere near as good as the custom made Topsy's you'll find in Kansas City.



The game is another loss for the slumping Orioles but we do get to see a play early in the game where outfielder Kevin Kiermaier made an outstanding leaping play to rob the birds of a home run. 

It ended up being the play of the week on ESPN and we got to see it live. Unfortunately, Kiermaier was injured on the play and had to exit the game.  Final score, Tampa Bay Rays 6, Orioles 3.



It's a fun game and, since we're visitors, it really doesn't matter who wins for us.  The stadium is very nice and the wheelchair seats are top notch and scattered about in all levels.



Camden Yards set a new standard for baseball stadiums and its influence is strongly felt on all stadiums built since its debut.



Game over, we walk through the streets crowded with fans back to our hotel and get ready to finish this trip to the charming and historic city of Baltimore.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Oriole Park at Camden Yards - Baltimore, Maryland


At a young 23 years old, Camden Yards is already considered a classic stadium. In the early 90's, Baltimore threw out the templates and told architecture firm HOK to build them an appropriate palace to baseball. Using the massive B&O Railroad warehouse as a backdrop, HOK went back in time to build an old looking stadium with modern amenities.  It has had a big influence on just about every baseball stadium built since. 

A lot of history here. Babe Ruth lived above his father's tavern, which was located somewhere between 2nd base and the right field wall. Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gerigh's consecutive game streak here. Here are the stats:



Opened: 1992
Surface: Kentucky Bluegrass
Construction cost: $110 million
Capacity: 45,971
Field dimensions: Left field - 333 ft; Left center - 364 ft; center field - 410 ft; right center - 373 ft; right field - 318 ft.
Home team: Baltimore Orioles (American League - MLB) 1992 - present
Events attended: 1 game



Great access all around the entire stadium. Wheechair seating is plentiful all around the seating bowl but the closest to the field are the seats we had, about 20 rows back behind home plate.

Ticketing is easy, just call the box office at 888-848-BIRD.  We had no problem getting seats for the wheelchair and two companions.  Dynamic pricing means there are no set ticket prices but our seats right behind home plate were around $50. Of course, this is in a period where the Orioles are not a contending team, so that might have put a damper on prices. 

Public transit, via the bus system, the Charm City Circulator, and the light rail will take you right to the stadium.



Many lodging choices are available nearby in the downtown area, all within a few blocks walk.  The most lively area is two blocks east of the stadium, the Inner Harbor area with many restaurants, bars, and attractions.



Food choices are expansive here.  Esskay hot dogs provide a very good basic ballpark dog.  Former player Boog Powell can frequently be found at his barbecue stand beyond right field.  The beer selection on tap is vast and average priced ($8 - 15). The local National Bohemian (Natty Boh) is very good for a cheap brew and an ice cold pint, delivered to your seat, is the best bargain in the park.


There is no open concourse so you'll miss the action when visiting the snack bar or bathroom but if you're sitting around left field, the authentic biergarten will provide great times while still giving you a view of the game. 


Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 19, 2018

Arriving in Charm City...Baltimore, Maryland


It’s tough waking up at 2:30 in the morning for a flight but getting to fly out of Ontario makes up for that. We slog through our morning rituals and make it out in time to make it to the airport with a nice cushion of time before our 5:40am boarding time.

The flight is uneventful and we don’t have to change planes but we do have to make a stop in Denver before a midafternoon arrival at Baltimore Washington International Airport.


It’s our first time in Charm City though we have been in Maryland before. We’re here to chalk up another couple of stadiums on our quest to see every Major League Baseball park. This trip will complete our northeast teams when we go to an Orioles game in a couple of days and a Nationals game two more after that. We’ll have 25 (out of 30) ballparks under our belts at the end of this trip but  first, we must make it out of the airport.


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First, our plane’s assigned gate is occupied, so we wait about an extra 15 minutes until another gate is made available for us. Next, it’s another 10 minutes before a gate crew can make it over to operate the jetway. Finally, we’re off the plane, at baggage claim, and no luggage. It hasn’t been unloaded yet and eventually it’s routed to a different carousel.

Suitcases claimed, we now head into the light rail station to make the final leg into town. It is a very, very long walk from baggage claim to the station. Once there, we can’t find ticket machines and eventually learn they’re back in the terminal.

Letty and Tim wait on the platform while I go back to get them only to return and just miss a trail.  About half an hour later, we finally get out of the hot, humid air onto a cool train.

In Baltimore, it’s a three-block walk through a sketchy looking area to our hotel. We have no more problems, however, and soon check into our room at the Springhill Suites, just off the Inner Harbor.

Welcome to Baltimore.

It’s not the greatest Springhill Suites we’ve stayed in but it’s roomy, the A/C is not blowing directly on my wife, we’ve got a fairly accessible bathtub for Tim, and breakfast is free.

Hungry after that all day flight, we head out to eat. I saw a nice looking restaurant on the corner by the hotel. As we walk out the doorman asks if we need help or directions. I tell him no, we’re going over there, unless you know someplace better.

“I sure do, head down that alley across the street and look for the sign that says ‘pizza.’ It’s Supano’s and you’ll really like it.”

OK, we take him at his word and head down the alley where we find the pizza sign, a fiberglass statue of a chef, and a door…not much else. We open the door and a tall black man comes out to help us get in with the wheelchair. This, we would later learn, is Derek and he would become our friend while we were in Baltimore.


Inside, we find an expansive restaurant with three levels and non-stop videos of Frank Sinatra concerts playing. We had entered via the back door but find that it’s the only accessible entrance anyway.

The friendly server sets up glasses of Yuengling beer and takes our order. Seafood fettuccine for Letty, lasagna (Baltimore’s Best, the menu promises) for Tim, and veal saltimbocca for me.


The food is in one word, heavenly. We take bites of each other’s dishes and it’s hard to pick a winner. They’re all good.

Letty’s seafood dish tastes very good even to a non-seafood lover like me. Tim’s lasagna is the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant anywhere. The saltimbocca takes me back to North Beach in Boston to the incredible version I had at Pagliuca’s…I couldn’t really tell you which one was best but those are the best versions I’ve ever had.  This would be the best meal we’d have on the entire trip.

After dinner, we walk off our meal at the nearby Inner Harbor where it seems half of Baltimore is out enjoying this warm Saturday night.  As we walk by the historic ships on display, a street juggler performs. A three-masted Coast Guard ship is in giving tours. The aquarium has two waterfalls, a giant one indoors falling into a salmon pond and a smaller one outside feeding a creek to the sounds of crickets and cicadas. A fine cover band serenades us at  the Hard Rock as we relax waterfront before heading back in for the night.


Now, let’s say it loud and proud without any hint of sarcasm…Welcome to Baltimore!

Stay tuned, there’s much more to come.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.
Photos by Letty Musick, Copyright 2015

All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 18, 2018

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Rubio



Ah, the ever popular Rubio. What? You've never heard of it?




Don't feel bad...I just made it up. Actually, Tim and I made it up, as you can see in this week's Cocktail Hour video.


Watch the Video!


The history is we made some wine from the juice of our grape vine in the backyard. Not a great wine, in fact just barely drinkable. What to do?


At my wife's suggestion, we poured a healthy slug of amaretto into it and...voila...something much better emerged.


If you don't have your own barely drinkable, homemade wine, don't sweat it. Just get a really cheap bottle of rose, put a shot and a half of amaretto in it and you can have your own Rubio.


Where'd the name come from? Well, watch the video (it's short, only 4 minutes) for the answer...


Cheers!


-Darryl

Friday, February 16, 2018

Christmas in the Capitol: A Floating Dinner in Sacramento


We must like this hotel, we've stayed here repeatedly over the last decade and a half. At first, it was called the Hallmark Suites. Great free breakfast bar, cocktail lounge, and pool area. Nice two room suites.



It became the Sierra Suites after that then changed into a Hyatt House. All still the same but looking a little worn at our last stay a couple of years ago. Soon after we checked out, it closed down and underwent a year-plus renovations and reopened a few months ago as a Doubletree Suites.


Watch the Video!

Nice location across the street from the Sunrise light rail station, giving you easy access to downtown Sacramento to the west and the even nicer Old Town Folsom to the east.



This time, I was offered a two story loft unit with two bathrooms, mobility access, and two bedrooms each with a king size bed, for the same price as the two room suite we had before.

Well, I can't pass an offer like that up...



After checkin, we take our delicious Doubletree cookies with us to our room in the next building. 



The room is indeed spectacular. A large living room with a sink, fridge, coffee maker, and microwave welcome us as we enter (I could picture the sink area being a kitchen before the renovation. Comfortable sofa, deskchair, and large tv dominate the rest of this room.

Beyond that is the downstairs bedroom with it's king-sized bed and bathroom. Funny thing about this accessible bathroom...it is very large but has a tub without a shower on a hose and...no...the management has no bathchair they can put in there. There's a grab bar next to the toilet and a roll-under sink and no door.  I mean none...no sliding door, no curtain, nothing.

(Management offered to move us to a smaller room which would mean Tim would have to move to the sofabed instead of having that large king to himself)

Upstairs is another bedroom with another king bed for Letty and I. Another bathroom up here is smaller and more spartan but...get this...it has a walk-in shower! Swap the tub downstairs with this one and the room would be close to perfect, except for that missing door downstairs.

We do travel with a spare shower chair on road trips for just such an occasion but the room is just too darn nice and big to move to a smaller version. We'll see about some other arrangement for compensation later.

I go to a nearby Wendy's and we feast on Christmas Eve around our hotel room table on some hot 'n juicy burgers while watching old movies on TV. It's a very comfortable, cozy, and low-key evening.

In the morning, we head to the lobby for a light breakfast. In it's previous lives, the hotel had a great, free breakfast bar. The buffet and omelet station are still here but for a price now. A "Continental" buffet is $12.95 and the full buffet is $16.95. A bit much since we basically just want some bagels and fruit.

It's very slow on Christmas morning. The hotel is mostly empty and nobody is eating. The counter guy makes us a deal...pay for a continental buffet, which he'll knock 10% off of because it's Christmas...and we can all share it.

That'll do (pro tip: don't be afraid to negotiate a better deal when you've got the upper hand).



We rest up and clean up (Letty and I have excruciating back pain today we think that was brought on by the uncomfortable couch in the Marriott we stayed at on the way up here) before loading up and heading to Old Sacramento along the riverfront in downtown.



On arrival, we have about a half hour to kill before our reserved time, so we head over to Candy Heaven, a large candy shop known for their generous free sample policy. Sample we do - we even sampled the chocolate covered crickets - and buy some candy for later.



It's time to eat so we head over to the Delta King, an historic paddle wheeled river boat permanently docked here. We're shown to a nice table and settle in to eat.



This is becoming a tradition for us to come up here and have Christmas dinner on the boat. It's the only time each year the restaurant here serve their turkey dinner.



It's among the best turkey dinners I've ever tasted with a perfectly roasted and juicy bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It's delicious and filling (that's why we went light on breakfast).



While the entire menu is available, I come strictly for the turkey dinner. Letty and Tim will digress to other menu items such as cioppino, pasta, or even fish 'n chips.



Tummies sated and spirits high, we head back to the hotel to enjoy the rest of the holiday together.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Cheapskate Wine Taster: Free and Cheap Wine Tasting in California's Wine Countries


Time to make a new list. Those of you who know me well know I don't like to throw money away. Maybe 'Cheap' is not quite the right term.  I just like to get my money's worth.

For example, I might think $12 is way too much for a mediocre burger and fries but I don't have a problem spending into the three digits for a spectacularly prepared lunch like we might get at Taste up in the Amador wine country.

That's how it is with California wine tasting...I don't really have a problem with a winery that charges me a small fee, say $5 dollars or so, to taste wine as long as they let me apply it to my purchase.  I do have a problem with the many wineries in this state now charging $15, $20, $25 or more to have just the slightest taste of their product and then have the audacity to tell me I can't apply that to my purchase. 

I've been ranting on that particular subject for years.  Now it's time to fight back.

Lets celebrate the wineries in this state that are not trying to rip you off.  Here's a list that I hope to keep growing of vintners and dealers in the Golden State where you can still taste for free or a token 'money back when you buy' fee.

And, finally, be a good wine visitor...support these great wineries, and their friendly tasting policies, by buying a bottle or more while you're there.



CUCAMONGA VALLEY (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles)

Galleano Winery, Mira Loma - My favorite Southern California winery. Great wines and a refundable $5 fee for five tastes.  You are free to share, too. Bring a picnic, borrow a couple of glasses and enjoy an al fresco lunch with a great bottle of wine at their lovely, historic, and relaxing picnic area.

Joseph Filippi, Rancho Cucamonga - Same as above. $5 refundable fee for five tastes. Not quite as nice to visit as the Galleano folks but still an historic winery in an area where they hang on by a thread.

LOS ANGELES

San Antonio Winery, Los Angeles (with branches in Ontario and Paso Robles) - Free for the day's three tastings. More for artisinal wines.



LODI AREA

Bogle, Clarksburg - Beautiful winery with some outstanding wines. Another great picnic destination in the Sacramento River delta. Free tasting.

Delicato, Manteca - Large winery right next to Highway 99, can't miss it. Free.

Michael David, Lodi - $5 for five tastes, applicable to purchase.



NAPA VALLEY

Heitz Cellar, St. Helena - Free.

Mason Cellars, Napa - Lower priced Napa Valley wines and free tasting.

Sutter Home, St. Helena - Bargain label run by the Trinchero family in the heart of the valley. Free, extra charge for library wines.

Vincent Arroyo Windery, Calistoga - Free tasting for parties of 4 or less.



SIERRA FOOTHILLS

Amador 360, Plymouth - a wine collective, featuring local wines from winemakers too small to have tasting rooms. $5 tasting fee, refundable.

Drytown Cellars, Drytown - Small winery with very good wines and two dogs...one friendly, the other sometimes grumpy (unfortunately, grumpy dog has passed - Ed). Free

Renwood, Plymouth - is probably the best known of the wineries up here. $5 for five tastes, applicable to purchase.

Sobon/ Shenandoah Wineries, Plymouth - Two wineries, one company...free tasting. Sobon is also the oldest, continuously operating winery in the state.

Story Winery, Plymouth - Our favorite winery in the world. Awesome wines, best picnic area anywhere, great and friendly staff. $5, applicable to purchase.




STATEWIDE (and beyond)

Total Wine and More stores offer weekly wine tastings. There's a catch, there's a fee and you can't apply it to your purchase but it's only a penny.

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 12, 2018

Can You Spare a Quarter? A Free Night in Visalia, California


It's T-Minus Two until Christmas. On noon on Saturday, two days before the big holiday, and we're heading out. Seems we're not the only ones. Traffic is completely jammed on Interstate 5, disappearing up into the San Gabriel Mountains as we head up into the escape from L.A. known as the Grapevine.

Actually, I was going to leave tomorrow on Christmas Eve for this little getaway but Tim had wanted to leave a day early and maybe spend a night halfway. Sacramento is about 5 or 6 hours of driving for us if traffic isn't too bad. I had no objections to leaving early.

I went online to see where we could find a place to stay along the way. When I logged on to my Marriott rewards account, I found 15,000 points I didn't remember I had. I'm not really trying to accumulate points with them right now so I see what that many points can get me.


What is does get me is a room, a little over 300 square feet, with a king size bed and a full size sofabed in the heart of Visalia's downtown. I have to still pay the tax, which comes up to a quarter. I offer to pay it in cash with the coin in my pocket but the front desk manager say's that part is comped also.

It's not a wheelchair accessible room but it does have step-free access, which is all we need tonight. Tomorrow's hotel will need more accessible features but this will do fine for today.

Visalia is a very pretty little town, about an hour's drive north of Bakersfield, a few miles east of Highway 99...the main traffic artery through California's Central Valley.

The hotel sits about 100 yards south of Main Street, adjacent to the convention center. It's a very nice, classic Marriott hotel and will do well for this overnight rest stop.


Around the corner, we walk past a few skaters who are spinning the temporary ice rink that's been set up in a empty lot between buildings. Just beyond is our dinner destination.


Crawdaddy's is a Cajun place on the corner of Main and Bridge Streets. It's nice if a little expensive.


My wife orders a crawfish etoufee that she says is more like a gumbo. Too tomato-y for her but Tim and I really like it.


Tim gets some tenders...


...while I get a very good chicken Cordon Blue.


After dinner, we take a little stroll through the quiet and pretty downtown district. Being just a bit over 24 hours until Christmas, it's very quiet although a couple of bars are doing booming business. We're not in a drinking mood tonight, instead, we'll head back to the room and watch classic movies like "The Wizard of Oz" until bedtime.

In the morning, we can pay $16 for the hotel's breakfast buffet or we can walk a short block to get our meal half price at one of the local Mexican restaurants. Guess which option we choose.


Colima, back on Main Street, is warm, inviting, and friendly.

Letty...the true Mexican among us...isn't feeling her roots this morning so she goes with bacon, eggs, and pancakes.


Tim gets a delicious bowl of steaming menudo...


...while I get this delicious plate of chilaquiles and eggs.

It's all very delicious and a perfect meal to fortify us for the drive up to our destination.

We'll be sharing our adventure of Christmas in the state's capitol soon, stay tuned for that,

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved